Enter SAMPSON and GREGORY, with swords and bucklers, of the house of Capulet

SAMPSON       Gregory, on my word, we’ll not carry coals.

GREGORY       No, for then we should be colliers.

SAMPSON       I mean, an we be in choler, we’ll draw.

GREGORY       Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of collar. (1.1.1-4)


Despite the shift from highly artificial verse into almost ostentatiously prosy prose, and the proper entry into the world of the play, this exchange continues the Prologue’s interest in pairs, asymmetry and imbalance. Two characters enter, together, presumably from the same (side?) entrance; their conversation is already underway. They are probably dressed similarly, wearing livery or bearing the same badge. One is named, the other not: Gregory is addressed directly (twice in the scene) but Sampson is identified only in the speech prefixes. Sampson is the slow straight man to Gregory’s punster. And Sampson’s oath – on my word – which should draw a line, establish a fixed position (we’ll not carry coals) instead instigates a series of puns (coals/colliers/choler/collar) which attests to the slippery mutability of language. Despite the prose, the dirt, the labour, an airy word. There’s rage here, and death (the collar is a noose), but also bathos, and the promise of comedy: the swords and bucklers the men carry are archaic, low-status, the antithesis of the rapiers and daggers that will prove so deadly.

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